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Safety at school

View profile for Robert Dempsey
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The obligatory photographs shared by proud parents on social media of their children in new school uniforms tells us it’s back to school time.

Understandably, parents need to know their children are safe at school, and if they are injured, remedies are available by way of compensation and rehabilitation when required.

The responsibility of teachers has been well established for over 120 years, with the relevant case law stating the duty of a schoolteacher is that of a “reasonably careful father.” (It took the courts 70 years to acknowledge the important role of mothers with the relevant case describing the duty as that of a “parent with many children".)

Children can be injured as a result of boisterous play. The courts take a balanced approach with the view “rough and tumble” is an inevitable part of growing up and it would discourage independence if children were monitored too closely by teachers. That said, the key to successful compensation claims for injuries in school often centres upon lack of supervision.

We recently secured compensation for a teenage boy who lost the tip of his finger during the school lunch break. He was amongst a group of boys trying to enter a classroom but was prevented from doing so by a group of girls. The girls slammed the door shut trapping the boy's hand. The claim was successfully concluded on the basis that that area of the school had no teachers supervising it, despite knowing children played there.

If children are purposely injured by fellow pupils, and no element of supervision would have prevented this, it is still possible to pursue a claim through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. We assist many clients in pursuit of these claims.

As well as specific laws governing the safety of school premises, schools owe the same general duty of care to visitors, in the same way as restaurants or supermarkets, for example. We acted for a pupil who took a shortcut across overgrown land on the school premises. He tripped over a tree stump which was concealed by grass and broke his arm. We were successful at court. The school was aware pupils took the shortcut and so the Judge was satisfied the school had not done what was reasonable to make the area safe.

With regard to sports at school, it is generally felt all participants including children accept some level of risk, ruling out an injury claim. If however it is felt the injury arose as a result of actions one would not normally consent to then a claim can be brought. We obtained compensation for a young footballer who was injured as a result of an obviously reckless tackle.

The general need for adequate supervision extends to sporting activities. We are pursuing a case on behalf of a young gymnast who was injured whilst trampolining. We have obtained expert evidence which states there was inadequate supervision for that particular activity.

If a teacher knows, or ought to know, that pupils are carrying out dangerous activities, the school can be liable if they fail to prevent or supervise the activity. We secured compensation for a pupil who fractured his elbow in a wrestling match. Not only had the teacher failed to prevent the activity, he actively encouraged it as part of the lesson, asking the pupil to use his non-dominant left hand against a left handed opponent.

Once compensation is secured, money is paid into court and released to the child once he or she reaches 18. Not only will there be compensation for the injuries, the claim will include financial losses, usually incurred by the parents. It is possible to apply to the court for the money to be released early for the benefit of the child. This usually relates to educational improvement but we have successfully applied to the court for the release of funds to pay for a 17-year old's driving lessons and scooter.

If your child has been injured in school, please contact us on 01775 764150 for free advice. Alternatively, if you yourself were injured in school, and have not yet reached 21, it still may be possible for you to bring a claim.